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Posts Tagged ‘History’

Tomorrow here at AnthoCon, my story “Unknown Caller” will be published in the anthology Inner Demons Out: Anthology Year Two (Four Horsemen). It features a phone booth graveyard.

Why?

Because phone booth graveyards are cool. Like bow ties. And fezzes.

Ok, really it started with this picture.

Phonebooth Graveyard Newark-on-Trent UK

I had been looking at photos of abandoned buildings and this shot of a phone booth graveyard in Newark-on-Trent, UK popped up in the middle. Beautiful and lonely and strange. And I thought…a phone booth graveyard? How cool! Are there more photos of it?

Yes. Lots. Because there are many phone booth graveyards in the world. Phone booths of course, as people in my generation and older know, used to be everywhere. Because there was a time not all that long ago when we didn’t all carry phones. And use them incessantly. And take pictures of our food with them. And make videos of our cats that go viral on YouTube.

You see, waaaay back then, when you were out and about and needed a phone you went and found a phone booth. You put coins in them to use them. Or maybe you had a calling card. But phone booths are rapidly going extinct. They are being hauled away except for a few being turned into aquariums or art installations. (No, I’m not kidding.) Voila! The rise of the phone booth graveyards. Here are a few.

Carlton Miniott UK - Reuters.

Carlton Miniott UK – Reuters

Phuket Thailand

Phuket Thailand

 

Kenya - Tom Barkin

Kenya – Tom Barkin

New York City - Dave Bledsoe

New York City – Dave Bledsoe

And I thought…what a great setting for a scene. But indoors someplace. Urban explorers. And they break into a warehouse filled with these things. And some of them are very old and very beautiful, because phone booths used to be works of art, not simply functional slabs of mass production. But then there’s this one phone booth….

Well, I’ll let you read the story.

While learning about phone booths, I also learned about the Mojave Phone Booth, which is mentioned in “Unknown Caller.” In the middle of what is now the Mojave National Preserve in California there used to be a lone phone booth. It was miles and miles from anything. It had been put there in 1948 for use by miners working in the area but long after the mines closed the phone booth remained. Looked like this.

mojave-phone-booth

A whole subculture developed around the phone booth. People called the number, hoping someone would pick up. People drove out to the phone booth and waited, hoping someone would call. A movie was made. Eventually, the Mojave Phone Booth became too much of a popular attraction and the National Park Service asked for it to be removed in 2000.

But it’s back…. Well, the phone number is back. But now if you call it, you are connected to a conference call. Anyone can access by calling the number. So anyone might be there at any given time.

No, I haven’t tried it. But if you want to, here’s the number: 760-733-9969.

 

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A sunny Saturday morning.  The kids are working through a morning-long grounding (the first time we’ve imposed one).  I’m trying to clean house and get a few things done before lunch.  My wife is off working on an affordable housing project our church is involved with.  If all goes well here, we’ll head for the science museum for the afternoon.  A few notes before I scurry off.

I posted about Faithful a couple of days ago.  Another book I’m reading at the moment is The Storm in the Barn, by Matt Phelan.  It is a graphic novel set in Kansas during The Dust Bowl and won the 2010 Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction.  The book is beautiful (as is seemingly everything released by Candlewick Press) and the story does an excellent job of blending gritty reality with the fantasy elements.   It begins with this quote:

“Every theory of the course of events in nature is necessarily based on some process of simplification of the phenomena and is to some extent therefore a fairy tale.”  – Sir Napier Shaw, Manual of Meteorology.

I love that.  And I’m loving the book.  Here’s a peek:

Having gone to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes recently, my wife and I did what we often do – change things up completely for our next film.  We watched Iris, a 2001 film about British novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch based on the writings of her husband, John Bayley.  Judi Dench and Kate Winslet (two of my favorite actresses) play Murdoch at different stages of her life.  Jim Broadbent won an Oscar for his portrayal of Bayley in both time periods that the film cuts back and forth between.  Here’s the trailer:

There are lots of great scenes and moments.  We liked it, but we felt it suffered a flaw common to film adaptations.  It shorthands scenes, particularly in the final stages of Murdoch’s mental disintegration at the hands of Alzheimer’s disease.  I thought, stylistically, it was trying to evoke the effects of Alzheimer’s, with all the cutting back and forth, memory triggering memory, repetition of certain key memories, etc.  The sense of missing scenes would fit in with that as well.  But, if that’s the intent, the director didn’t push it nearly far enough.  As it is, the movie is only 91-minutes long and left us dissatisfied.  I have more sympathy for a 2-hour film that feels like it’s been cut short.  For films that don’t have mass-audience, blockbuster potential, there are industry pressures to keep to a certain length so that enough screenings can be held of all films in the theaters at that time.

On the writing front, I’ve resumed work on my novel.  I ground to a halt in early summer around 45,000 words.  I hadn’t planned to essentially stop writing for two months, but that’s what happened while I lived the rest of my life instead.  But now I’m back at it and, with both of my sons in school, I have more time than I’ve had in almost a decade.  I will finish the first draft by mid-December.  And I’ve posted this above my desk to help keep me on track:

And if that doesn’t work, I’ll hire some starving actor to stand behind me wearing a hooded mask and holding a whip.

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Categorizes are comforting things.  They help us know what to expect.  You find milk in the dairy section.  You find wall sockets in the electrical section.  You find men’s shirts in the men’s section.  We human beings tend to like neatness and order.  We’ll take predictability wherever we can find it.  We like to feel like we’re sailing along in full control.

It’s an illusion, of course.  Life doesn’t work that way.  And categories often don’t work very well either.  That’s certainly the case with books, where endless attempts are made to stamp them with various emblems and cordon off certain ones and adopt others into more acceptable sections.  While I can appreciate the professional goals of the marketers and the anxiety of the financial officers, the whole practice obscures the fact that it is all interrelated.

Ward Shelley has created a painting called “The History of Science Fiction” that is both striking and intriguing in its attempt to illustrate the evolution of one category of books.  It makes the point nicely.  Within the imagined bounds of science fiction ( a term most people probably feel like they have a good grip on ) lie a dizzying assortment of smaller categories – sub genres.  Some of them exit science fiction entirely, leading to neighboring categories.

The image as a whole suggests some wild, alien plant or a Lovecraftian creature.  It’s certainly organic.  That makes perfect sense as well.  Art is organic.  What comes now grows from what came before, sometimes lengthening or broadening an established part of the plant, sometimes budding off to start something that is both new and intrinsically bound to the past, no matter how dissimilar it may seem.

It’s fun to trace what is presented here.  Hundreds of books and shows and films and writers are represented.  There’s more than a little humor as well.  Have a look.   Click on the image for a larger format.  Also, if you’d love to have this on your wall, you can.  Ward Shelley is making a poster version available.  Contact him at mail@wardshelley.com to inquire.
Ward Shelley painting - The History of Science Fiction

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As I sit here by the fire this evening, a major, possibly historic storm is revving up across the country.  According to Weather.com, two dozen states and a third of the population of the United States may be impacted.  There are tornado watches and blizzard warnings up lots of places.  Where I live, we’ve upgraded to a winter storm watch.  The snow will start early tomorrow morning.  We’re expecting 10-14 inches over Tuesday and Wednesday.  There may also be up to a 1/4 inch of ice on Wednesday afternoon.  Snow, sleet, freezing rain, sleet, snow – to connect the dots.  Having watched the record for snowiest January get buried last week, the biggest storm of the season (so far) is about to hit.  Everyone’s been busy preparing.  Trying to clear as much snow and ice away from roofs as possible.  Buying supplies in case we lose power.  We picked up four canisters of propane for the camp stove and a bag of charcoal for the grill.

It all has me searching my memory for another winter in my life experience to compare it to.  All I come up with is 1978.  I was eight years old, the same age as my older son.  I was living in Chelmsford, Massachusetts.  And anyone old enough to remember that winter remembers the Blizzard of ’78, which arrived almost exactly 33 years ago.

In the warm and fuzzy memories of my childhood, the blizzard was a big adventure.  A strange and wondrous time.  It snowed and snowed and snowed and snowed.  We lost power and had to “camp” in our house for a while.  I think it was just for a couple of days, but it was long enough for the ice cream to melt.  I remember eating “chocolate soup” for dessert by battery powered lantern light.

School was closed for I’m not sure how long.  There was so much snow in the yard that there are pictures of my Dad standing in snowshoes on it and patting the roof of our house.  And the drifts were much, much bigger.  But the main thing I remember was the sledding.  I lived most of the way to the top of a hill and there was another street that dropped off the side of the hill and ended in a cul-du-sac.  Several older boys lived on that street and they dug actual bobsled runs into the snow beside the street.  It was the only time I’ve ever gone sledding where you pushed off and dropped into the sledding run, which you then went down banking up on the walls through the curves.  Crazy, wonderful stuff.  One of the highlights of my elementary school years.

I had some sense that it was serious business too, this blizzard.  I remember seeing grainy TV images of cars stranded on highways.  But I was too young to appreciate the severity of what was happening and things were not so bad in Chelmsford and the world was less connected in those days so we didn’t all immediately learn of the impact elsewhere.

The reality is that the Blizzard of 1978 was a winter hurricane with sustained winds of 86 miles-an-hour.  It snowed for 33 hours straight.  Snow fell at rates of up to 4 inches-per-hour, which is why thousands of motorists wound up abandoning their vehicles on freeways.  There was a storm surge that devastated coastal communities.  Roughly 100 people died and the region sustained $1.75 billion in damages (in adjusted dollars).  Here are a few images I found from the monster storm that I, as a kid, just got to enjoy:

The above shots closely mirror my own memories.  It is the shots from the coast that I find startling now.  I don’t think I had any idea it was this bad.

These are from The Boston Globe with descriptions quoted beneath each:

“The Peter Stuyvesant — once a famed Hudson River riverboat that was restored and made part of the Pier 4 restaurant on Boston’s harbor front — was flooded by surging tide waters and left leaning and partially submerged. The vessel later was demolished and her remains removed from the pier area.”


“Motif Number 1, a fisherman’s shack in Rockport, was to students of art and art history one of the most recognizable buildings in the world. The relic was dumped into the harbor by the flood tides and towering waves.”


“Revere was the North Shore community that was hardest hit by the waves and flood tides. This scene of submerged cars was recorded Feb. 8 on Winthrop Shore drive.”

Just mind boggling, all of it.  And all of it is a good reminder that, as hard as we sometimes feel like we have it this winter in New England, we’ve had it far, far worse.

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If I still had The History Channel, I’d watch their special on the origins of Halloween and how it morphed from pagan celebration in Europe to major American pop cultural circus tent pole.  But I don’t.  So I can’t.  And I went off looking for something else covering similar terrain and found this National Geographic piece on YouTube.  If you haven’t spent any time tracing the roots of Halloween, it’s fascinating stuff.  And there are, of course, other similar holidays clustered in this same chunk of the calendar – Dia de los Muertos, for example.  Enjoy.

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